Earlier this week, Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser denied a U.S. extradition request relating to indictments of Julian Assange. Baraitser detailed her decision came after U.S. authorities were unable to convince her Assange wouldn’t have the opportunity to take his own life inside the U.S. prison system. Despite this likely being the best outcome regarding Julian Assange’s trial, Magistrate Baraitser still set a dizzying precedent that erodes our fundamental civil liberties.
Baraitser agreed with and upheld almost every argument made by U.S. prosecution, completely forgoing the bigger picture.
U.S. prosecution believes that Assange did not engage in journalistic activity – which would be protected under the First Amendment – but instead assisted his source, Chelsea Manning, in breaking into a government computer. The prosecution argues that Assange illegally possessed and published classified material as well.
No matter where you may fall on the political spectrum, freedom of information is defined as the freedom of a person or people to publish and consume information. Assange and WikiLeaks did just that, published information for people to consume. By asserting that journalists can be prosecuted under the U.S. Epsionage Act, Baraitser muddied not only the future of journalism when it comes to releasing information but the very tenacity of it as well.
The U.S. has said that they will appeal Baraitser’s ruling. Assange is already in the process of making bail and releasing from prison into freedom after torturous and inhumane decades of vile treatment. On Monday, as the judge announced that Assange would be “discharged”, the courtroom camera swung to him sitting in his glass cell in the courtroom, showing no reaction.
Again, even with this being the best potential outcome for Assange, all journalists and advocates of free speech should be alarmed by Baraitser’s ruling.
Judge Baraitser wholly rejected claims from Assange’s lawyers that he was acting as a journalist and protected under the First Amendment. According to Baraitser, Assange’s conduct “would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech”.
No matter the ramifications of the ruling, the victory for Julian Assange cannot be understated. Giving a statement outside court following the judgment, Stella Morris – Assange’s fiancee – declared: “Today is a victory for Julian. Today’s victory is a first step towards justice in this case”.
A United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, described that Assange has been left in a state of “extreme stress”, “constant panic”, and “chronic anxiety” after spending seven years in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.
This isn’t even mentioning Assange’s years long stint in Belmarsh, one of London’s most crowded and poor condition prisons amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Relating to the cruel and unusual punishment enacted by the U.S., Ecuador, and Sweden against Assange, Melzer stated:
In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time.
Even with the recent substantive developments in Assange’s legal battles, there’s still a tremendous uphill battle in potentially acclimating and re-entering a mentally-battered Julian Assange back into the modern world and the new decade.
For now, Assange has been granted reprieve but merely on technicality and not any actual justice. The positive turn-of-events should be enjoyed and celebrated for the sake of Julian’s abhorrent treatment over the years as truly, who knows what comes next?